It’s been both heartening and difficult to read the conversations taking place about the need to make craft beer a more diverse and inclusive space. While these conversations are long overdue, they’re quite painful and confronting, particularly for the marginalised identities who’ve been on the receiving end of so much discrimination and abuse.
I’ve been working on a book about women in the craft beer industry since 2017, and in that time I have interviewed over 50 female-identifying brewers, brand owners, brewpub managers, social media influencers, marketers and others around New Zealand, Australia and the United States about their experiences.
While their job roles have differed, every single woman interviewed recounted similar stories of being on the receiving end of some kind of sexism, misogyny, gender bias, harassment or violence in relation to their work in craft beer. Every. Single. One.
In fact, the kind of disclosures made on Brienne Allan’s Instagram account (@ratmagnet) that sparked craft beer’s recent #MeToo movement could’ve been taken straight from the hundreds of pages of interview transcripts that inform my book. I’ve even witnessed such offences first-hand whilst conducting ethnographic observation at breweries, beer launches, festivals and other industry events, and have personally experienced some myself as both a consumer and researcher working in this space.
Most of my participants (and even me, at times) have shrugged off these experiences as “boys being boys”, just one of many irritating realities women face in an industry and culture dominated by men. At the same time, the common refrain is that while the gendered inequalities in craft brewing definitely suck, things are always evolving and changing for the better.
But are they?
When I started researching the gendered labour of craft brewing, one of the biggest surprises was the utter lack of empirical data on industry demographics. We don’t know how many women (or non-white people for that matter) even work in craft beer, which makes addressing their invisibility, their under-valuation and strategies for building a more diverse and inclusive space all the more challenging. What, I wonder, will the industry even measure its progress against?
In the absence of these statistics, I decided to spend a long, tedious summer figuring it out for myself. With the help of two incredibly patient research assistants, Molly Jones and Zoe Attwood, we charted the gendered demographics of who owns and makes craft beer in New Zealand and Australia in order to get at least some sense of what the industry looks like by the numbers. We focused primarily on the owners and brewers of craft beer brands — the people behind the production process who make more than just beer but the cultures and communities their beer promotes.
It seems also worth mentioning that second only to beer consumers, the owners and brewers of craft brands have also been consistently reported as some of the worst offenders when it comes to industry-related sexism.
You can view our findings on graphic below, which visualises the gendered demographics of Aotearoa’s craft beer industry in terms of brand ownership and brewers-in-charge (BIC).
We obtained these figures by first creating a list of every operational independent craft beer brand. We then verified the gender identity of every owner and BIC through the use of gendered pronouns obtained via online searches or direct communication with brand owners. We logged individuals whose gender identity couldn’t be verified as ‘N/A.’
The statistics are unsurprising but they do paint a pretty stark picture of what the brewing side of things looks like from a gendered perspective. Overall, craft brewing in New Zealand (and Australia) is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Of New Zealand’s 180 operating craft beer brands, only one is wholly-owned by a woman (Beer Baroness).
Conversely, over half of NZ’s beer brands are 100 percent male-owned. This means that over half of the craft beer market (51.5 percent) is exclusively owned by men, whilst women can exclusively claim one-half of one percent (0.55 percent to be exact).
The rest of New Zealand’s craft beer brands (roughly 39 percent) are owned by a mix of genders, of which slightly more than half are run by couples (e.g. husband-and-wife teams, domestic partnerships). In these mixed-gender arrangements, the woman’s involvement varies by firm; some play a major role in running the brewery or brand, while others are a shareholder whose interests are strictly financial.
But here’s where qualitative research (observations, interviews) tells a story about women’s visibility in craft beer that only numbers cannot. For instance, to suggest that craft brewing is fairly egalitarian because women own 39 percent of the brands ignores the actual reality of their work experiences. Regardless of their involvement, women in shared ownership arrangements are generally treated as “silent partners”, even when they play an active role in brewery operations.
When compared to their male counterparts, the contributions of women are consistently overlooked and under-visibilised. My participants consistently report being ignored by other brewers, pundits, and the media, or being treated as less knowledgeable than their male partner – if and when they’re acknowledged at all. I’ve heard countless stories of women being dismissed as “just the brewer’s wife”, even in cases where she’s actually the one running the show.
Overall, women who share ownership in craft beer brands with men generally struggle to achieve the same level of occupational legitimacy that their partners easily command by way of their gender alone (especially, I’m told, if the man has a beer belly and a beard!).
The statistics for those who do the actual brewing aren’t any different. For this portion of the study, we coded the gender of every brand’s brewer-in-charge (BIC). The BIC is generally the head brewer, but not all firms utilise this title. Typically, BICs are the key decision makers who influence what beer gets made, how, when and where (at least in the case of contract brewing).
The BIC of a craft beer brand (who in some cases is also the brand’s owner) has a significant influence over workplace dynamics. They also play a key role in shaping the cultural narrative of craft beer, particularly in terms of the stories that get told about the beers they make. In some cases, many BICs achieve a “celebrity” status as the man behind the brand. I say “man behind the brand” because looking at the stats, craft beer’s BICs are also overwhelmingly male: 95.5 percent to be precise, versus 5.5 percent female.
The gendered nature of Aotearoa’s craft brewing community isn’t an outlier by any means. Australia’s figures aren’t any better. Neither is the United States. A 2018 study conducted by the US Brewers Association found that, much like New Zealand and Australia, only 2 percent of the craft breweries it surveyed were 100 percent women-owned, and only 8 percent had female brewers.
While these stats suggest craft beer could do a much better job at diversifying numbers in key production roles, diversity doesn’t stop at gender alone. We need to account for other marginalised identities, as well. The focus on gender is a major shortcoming of my findings, but I simply didn’t have the resources to do that research on my own.
However, the general absence of demographic data leads me back to a quite basic but telling question: why don’t these statistics already exist? From my view, the industry’s lack of demographic data is merely symbolic of its historical organisational and cultural blindness around diversity and inclusion. Likely, the lack of interest in this data is a byproduct of the very problem at hand: i.e. What value would an industry dominated by white, middle-class men see in commissioning research that verifies their own dominance?
This point is particularly salient in the context of the industry’s current #MeToo moment, where men’s attitudes and treatment towards women in craft beer is at the heart of popular critique.
Without a clear picture of what the industry looks like right now, however, what exactly does the industry plan to measure future diversity and inclusion against?